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Back to basics for B2B advertisers?

We’ve seen a quiet revolution in the B2B space over the past few years, with an increasing number of B2B focused brands making the transition into mass reaches and traditional ‘above the line’ channels such as TV and radio. This may partly stem from new bodies of research, driven by some of the excellent analysis from the LinkedIn B2B institute – illustrating that typical B2B brand advertising has been ‘largely ineffective’, whilst sharing evidence and learning from the most successful campaigns. Their most recent study, ‘contrarian ideas for the new decade’ focuses on the need for B2B brands to prioritise long-term brand growth and strategic direction, over short-term tactical approaches.

It’s worth setting the scene here. The UK is seeing unprecedented growth in new SMEs, which has been accelerated by the pandemic. 407,000 new businesses were registered during the crisis and the UK has officially the largest number of SMEs in Europe, far ahead of Germany despite its larger population. For B2B brands, particularly those with products that have broad relevance for the many micro-business that now exist, there is a huge potential and growing audience.

Many of the recent studies into B2B effectiveness follow the broad concepts communicated by marketing effectiveness pioneers, Les Binet and Peter Field in the Long and Short of it (and various follows-ups). These suggest that B2B brands, in particular, favour short-term activation approaches over long-term brand building – and that the majority of evidence suggests this is broadly the incorrect approach. It’s clear that some of the mass market B2B brands are already following this new playbook.

The graph below shows reported spends by channel across a finance B2B competitor group containing the likes of Quickbooks, Tide, Squarespace and GoDaddy. Since 2017, spends across ‘traditional’ channels have doubled:

These brands, however, appear to buck the general trend. The ‘contrarian ideas for the new decade’ study found that only 4% of B2B marketers measure metrics beyond 6 months and that 75% of campaigns are optimised within 2 weeks. The overriding criticisms were that B2B marketers remain too focused on the short term, favouring hyper-targeted, lead generation style campaigns instead of top of the funnel brand building.

This research also touched upon the creative side of B2B advertising campaigns. Analysis, run in conjunction with System1, suggested that 75% of B2B creative failed to elicit an emotional response and fell down on containing a strong story arc, characters, soundtrack, emotion, and a fluent device that drives brand recognition. The report concluded that whilst B2C brands are generally marketing-lead, B2B brands are instead often focused more on the product, engineering, or sales and a rational-focused approach to communication and this hinders their effectiveness.

All Response Media viewpoint

From a media perspective, the findings uncovered around B2B marketing do not come as a surprise. For years, we have been working with a range of B2B brands and using the power of traditional channels to drive long-term and short-term results against brand metrics, and direct response KPIs. We have always believed that we should also think of our B2B brands’ customers as normal consumers, who can be engaged with in exactly the same way as a B2C facing campaign.

For many of these brands, we have successfully leveraged our WRP (Work, Rest and Play) planning framework to delve deeper into the different mindsets of our target audience and understand how best to cut through the noise and drive salience – often with traditional and digital channels combined. So, the fact that these campaigns are often more successful in the long-term than tightly targeted, lead generation focused activity strikes true with our learning.

We would however take umbrage with the idea that there is a one-size-fits-all approach for B2B brands. For businesses with a very narrow target audience, broad media channels may not necessarily be the right approach. For brands without large marketing budgets, it may not be possible to prioritise a large share of voice land grab and to gain the necessary frequency that an emotionally focused creative may need to resonate. In these circumstances, our experience suggests it can still be possible to use channels such as TV and radio to drive positive business impacts but often in conjunction with a more rational, benefits-led, product focused creative approach.

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